We continue with an engineer’s look at the Olympics by considering two numbers: 0.45 and 0.233.

These represent two margins of results in two different sports. The first one, 0.45 is the difference in seconds (a fraction of a second) between 1st and 2nd place in a swimming race, specifically, the 4x100m freestyle. It is a measurable phenomenon – time. We have the knowledge and ability to measure differences in two people or teams to far less than 0.45 seconds. This is a very specific number and method of measurement, and a specific quantity of measurement.

On the other hand, 0.233 is the difference in the score between two gymnasts, meaning one will make it to the finals and one will not. This brings up the question: o.233 whats? Points? Points of what? This number is not a discrete measurement of time or distance, but instead, it is a compilation of scores of “opinions” of judges. In the absence of being able to measure specific distances or times or weights or whatever, the engineer will consider the option of using a group of experts to score items and weigh the scores, comparing scores, throwing out outliers, etc. In that respect, the Olympics does that right.

But in a strict comparison between the two sports, the engineers will overwhelmingly choose the one where results are measured on an absolute scale and not left to opinion, even if they are experts. Give us track and field. We will take swimming or cycling, or rowing. But vary off the path of time, distance, or weight and venture into gymnastics or diving, well, the engineer will either fall asleep or stay up all night devising a better, specific measurement of those sports.